Approaching a culture in more than one way can help absorb the quintessential thoughts, history and philosophy of a country. A good opportunity to expand one’s way of approaching Chinese culture is to learn Chinese painting. Chinese painting maintains its traditional techniques, which are deeply rooted in millennia of cultural history.
To study in the top university in China means having midterms, project deadlines and final exams all within a two-month module basis – it can get a bit hectic. Fortunately, Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School offers a variety of sports and cultural activities that can help students relieve stress. In this case, two international students from Brazil and Mexico enrolled in the Introduction to Chinese Painting Class – 中国画入门. Even though the class was taught completely in Chinese and was offered every Friday evening 18:30 to 20:30, it was a good time to wrap-up university-related concerns, cool-off, and prepare for the weekend.
The class uses traditional painting techniques, similar to calligraphy and traditional characters painting. Students use brushes of distinct thickness, black ink, color tints and rice paper. Class is divided into two parts: first, the instructor explains the technique to be covered in the particular session, goes over the stroke orientation, and projects a demonstration on the board.
Next, students practice and recreate on yellow-paper which is used for drafts.
Following the student practice time, the professor sits in the middle of the class and further demonstrates, with inspiring flow and grace, the expected result.
To wrap it up, students return to their seats and continue to paint, but now using the white rice paper which is used for homework submissions and exams.
From the first class, students are shown the proper way to handle the brushes, the correct amount of ink, and how to appreciate the main components and path of the painting. Starting with plants and flowers, the class evolves in a simple yet detailed method to develop one’s painting ability. Techniques that are taught include: tree trunks and stems, flower bulbs and blossoms, grass, orchids, a variety of leaves and flowers, bamboo, and birds. Each technique culminates in the final exam submission at end of the course. If selected by the professor, your final submission will be shown in the hallways of the university.
A single semester is definitely not enough. However, it allows the student the opportunity to absorb Chinese culture in a different way and grasp the preserved traditional painting techniques.
The brilliant instructor of the class was Professor Cen Qiusheng. He is a Fine Arts major alumni of Peking University originally from Guangdong. He started painting at the age of four years old, and is a self-taught artist who has been sharing his knowledge through classes for 15 years. He likes painting nature with a precise careful style and his favorite artist is Beitao Shi from Japan.
Written by Dany Bonfil
Photos by Dany Bonfil